Staff at Princess Marina House in Seafield Road, Rustington, were told this morning (July 13) that the home would not be reopening, having closed its doors in March due to the lockdown.
Run by the RAF Benevolent Fund, the home provided short breaks to former and serving members of the RAF and their families.
In a statement, chair of trustees of the fund, Lawrie Haynes, said the ‘reluctant decision’ was made because numbers of visitors were expected to decline and Covid-19 had made the situation worse, with the home realistically not able to open again until summer next year.
She said: “We now face funding an empty building which is unable to provide the vital support that veterans need right now.”
Staff will ‘enter a period of consultation’, she said. Dozens of jobs could be lost.
According to the home’s website, Princess Marina House was originally the Newton Driver Services Club and was given to the charity by Mrs Newton Driver in 1969.
Lucy Warren, whose relative worked at the home, said it ‘broke her heart’ that many of the regular residents would now have no ‘holiday’ to look forward to. She said: “There is nowhere for a lot of these people to go. Some people don’t have family.
“The only people some of them will see now before they die are the carers coming to their homes.
“When they come down, they have painting classes, sheep are brought in as animal therapy; they loved it.
“Now, they have nothing to look forward to.”
She said the charity had ‘made itself look silly’ by this decision, because a slogan it had used was ‘don’t let our veterans drop off the radar’. She said: “They are pushing them off the radar.”
Arun District Councillor Mike Northeast, whose 99-year-old father Stanley - a Second World War veteran - received a package from the home during lockdown, said he was shocked by the news, having contacted the home in the last few days to find out when it was reopening.
He said: “I’m absolutely shocked, and I’m sure my dad will be as well.
“Certainly it is a big loss for ex-RAF locally. They used it as a community hub.
“We were even considering having my dad’s 100th birthday there next year – but now, that won’t be the case.
“They did a hell of a lot of good work there.”
Here is the charity’s statement in full:
RAF Benevolent Fund Chair of Trustees, Lawrie Haynes, said:
“The Board has made the reluctant decision to permanently close Princess Marina House, the RAF Benevolent
Fund’s care and respite centre on the south coast and will enter into a period of consultation with affected staff.
The decision has not been taken lightly and is made with great sadness as it is a unique and special place both
to work and to visit. Staff wellbeing is very important to us and we will ensure they have all the support they
need during what will be an unsettling time.
“Before Covid-19, our research told us the number of veterans and their partners likely to visit Princess Marina
House would decline, bringing the centre’s long-term viability to the board’s attention, though no decisions
about its future had been made. Covid-19 has sadly exacerbated this issue and we now face funding an empty
building which is unable to provide the vital support that veterans need right now.
“Like so many organisations throughout the world, the Fund has found itself in an unprecedented situation
because of Covid-19 which would, inevitably, fundamentally change how Princess Marina House operated. It has
been closed since March 2020 and it is unlikely we would have been able to welcome back our guests, who
primarily fall into the vulnerable category, before mid-2021 and if we had, their experience would have been
vastly different due to the measures we would have needed to put in place for their own safety. Indeed, many of
our guests in higher risk groups may not have felt comfortable returning to Princess Marina House at all in the
near future, despite the safety measures in place.
“Now our focus must be on doing the best we can for the RAF veterans and their partners who use this much-
loved facility. To that end, we will be exploring alternative support options for veterans in the Sussex area. As a
responsible organisation, we have a duty to our beneficiaries and supporters to spend their donations
effectively and look for ways to make the biggest impact on the welfare of our beneficiaries with those funds
now when there is a need.
“We have not made this decision lightly and we are well aware of the impact the closure could have on our staff
and of course our regular guests. We are contacting all guests directly to inform them of our decision and to
ensure they are aware of the other support and welfare services we provide, such as Check and Chat calls,
Telephone Friendship Groups and National Wellbeing Breaks (Covid-19 restrictions allowing).”